Since I had a lot to do with the trees gracing the medians and roadsides of our interstates, particularly those along the gateway to Charleston and Summerville, which the S.C. Department of Transportation wants to butcher, I think it's time to recall their genesis.
I first went to our state Senate in 1981. Except for the beautiful swamps that 1-26 crossed, the highway was boring, its byways kept mowed pavement to pavement to fences.
But near Columbia, centered on Milepost 118, were a couple of miles of mature pine timber, which I loved seeing on my weekly trips.
I often wondered what saintly highway engineer had decided not to kill these kings of the median.
Because of their size they were valuable, the kind we would all like to have if we owned timberland.
And then one Tuesday morning they were all gone, hauled away, their roots grubbed out. Only a long ugly scar remained.
When the Columbia folks realized what had happened, they raised such a ruckus that DOT planted the area with some non-native ornamentals some of which profane the median to this day.
When I tried to find out what had happened I was stonewalled. But ugly rumors were floating around, and some suggestions were leaked to me.
When a new director came to DOT, he sent his internal investigator to see me, and I gave him what information I had. He said he'd be back to me shortly, but I never saw him again.
That told me a lot, but it's been 30-some years since the tragedy, and many of those involved are now dead.
So, I decided to beautify our interstates by legislatively limiting the mowing to 30 feet from the drive surfaces with exceptions for height and safety.
I got lots of help from my colleagues in the General Assembly, and our bill to accomplish this became the law which is in effect now.
As I told the Senate then, "When you don't mow, the grass gives way to weeds and the weeds to saplings and the saplings to beautiful trees."
Those we now have take many years to grow and provide beauty for us all as well as oxygen, which trees exhale.
Valuable habitat for bird life is given as well as a reserve of timber for our nation if it is ever needed. In addition, many thousands of dollars are saved because of the vast acreage that needs no mowing.
In respect for the law, which DOT does not have, communities can get an exception for local improvements.
In my last year in the Senate I signed off on an amendment for the town of Hardeeville.
Politics in the Lowcountry this year may change if DOT pursues its unlawful chainsaw madness.
The races will not be between the traditional parties but between the tree cutters and the tree lovers.
I believe that the tree cutters will be exposed so that the voters can cut them down.
Arthur Ravenel Jr.
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